MoneroTopia 2023 Review
I very much enjoyed my time as a virtual participant at MoneroTopia 2023 last weekend. The atmosphere was welcoming and fun. Though there were a few technical challenges (like electricity blackouts, and, I believe a storm) the crew and volunteers worked really hard to to keep the jam-packed programme running over the course of three days.
Participating in webinars virtually has the potential to be a somewhat alienating experience, but that was absolutely not the case at MoneroTopia 2023. My questions were read out by moderators to the speakers, and the people monitoring the chats for both feeds were very responsive to questions or comments about technical issues. With one or two exceptions, everything was recorded, and so I was able to watch speakers I'd missed the following day.
I want to give special kudos to one volunteer in particular. This was someone just named 'Alex' who had jumped in remotely to help moderate and monitor the Remote Stage stream. He was really excellent. He responded to the speakers in meaningful ways and patiently read out all of the questions posed by the virtual attendees. Thank you, Alex, whoever you are! You really made it a great experience for us in the chat.
One of the things that struck me was the truly overwhelming amount of interesting and relevant content Douglas, Sunita and their team had managed to schedule into just three days. I had more than my fill, especially on the full days - Saturday and Sunday. MoneroTopia 2023 was an enriching experience that way.
It was also really special to me to be able to virtually meet and ask questions directly to knowledgeable people in the privacy community. That alone made the entrance fee worth paying.
Many of the talks were over my head. Some included mathematical formulas. But I got the sense that there were plenty of people in the audience, both live and at home, for whom the very technical talks were relevant. I picked up bits and pieces just by listening in to those talks.
Douglas Tuman did a great job introducing speakers and tying the whole weekend together with his charismatic and laid-back presentation style. He kept his cool during some of the more challenging moments when the tech failed.
While Saturday had a strong focus on Monero, Sunday's talks were about a range of privacy tools. I think it is a credit to the team that these 'outsider' representatives were invited to speak. I learned the most during the Saturday sessions.
Talks were held on two stages - a Live Stage with a camera feed, and a Remote Stage, where the speakers themselves joined virtually. In some ways, the Remote Stage was a better experience for me. You felt directly spoken to, and interaction was quick. You could see all the questions, whereas in the Live area, you sometimes couldn't hear what was being asked.
Here are some of my personal highlights:
(Saturday) Remote Stage - Seth for Privacy - AGAINST MONERO MAXIMALISM
I have not been in the privacy communities that long as a contributor. Looking back, I see my first blog post, Deleting My Facebook Account was published 21 October 2022. But I had been listening to podcasts, reading blogs, etc. for several years before I wrote that post. One of my favourite creators in the space is Seth for Privacy (@sethforprivacy). His website has excellent guides, and his Opt Out podcast consistently models intelligent, open discourse. It was a real ego boost to get a personal shout-out from Seth during the talk, and be able to ask questions directly on the spot, via moderator Alex.
Give the subject of Seth's talk, I felt it was a shame he was unable to deliver it live. I don't know the Monero community well, but can hazard a guess that his topic is controversial. Seth argued that communities like ours must guard against falling prey to simplistic, us-or-them reasoning.
A point that felt particularly poignant to me was when he examined how sometimes people in the Monero community who are not gung-ho Libertarians, anti-government, anti-tax can sometimes receive toxic treatment for not being on board enough with those ideals.1
Seth also made a plea for more open attitudes towards other privacy tools and coins, as Monero may need them in the future. He argued that the Monero community can be "blinded to other projects in the space," and that:
Monero is going to face regulatory pressure...which cuts 'normies' off from gaining access. We need to leverage tools like Bitcoin as an on-ramp for Monero. (paraphrased)
I have been worried about last month's EU MiCA and Transfer of Funds regulations vote, especially as the EU has been known to set global trends in the digital realm. I appreciated that Seth seemed to see the oncoming regulation of Monero as a fait accompli and that when it happens, it is not going to good for onboarding newcomers to Monero, despite it being a good test for Monero's resilliance against state regulation. My view here is that most people are happy to be what Juraj Bednar (next) described in his talk as 'Beta' members of society. Simply having children can make going dark or globally nomadic difficult, and most likely not at all good for the children.
I have many more notes on this talk, but I would urge any interested reader to watch it in full once the recordings are published on the MoneroTopia 2023 website. At the end, Seth urged all of us in the Monero community to "act as bridges, each of us," an excellent message in this day and age of unconstructive vitriol and tribalism.
(Saturday) Live Stage - Juraj Bednar (@jurbed)- HOW PRIVACY, ELECTRONIC CASH AND CYPHERPUNK TECH INCREASES OUR FREEDOM
Juraj (@jurbed) is a very interesting individual. Whenever I hear him speak, I feel my day-to-day experience is quite far removed from his. But this is what makes listening to what he has to say interesting.
I have already mentioned Juraj in an earlier post. He first got my attention during an interview on Seth's Opt Out podcast, where he claimed that we should drop the idea of onboarding new people, and just provide privacy tools for those who are interested, or who genuinely need them. That is a refreshing alternative take, and one that gave me the idea of writing a series of articles about the challenges of onboarding.
At MoneroTopia 2023, Juraj's main point was that, once we begin the see the hierarchy game we all partake in, we should not aim to buckle down and take it, nor try to control it, nor try to 'improve the game.' He argues for a total opting out, which he calls the 'gamma' approach, or stepping out of the hierarchy game altogether.
Some of the smart arguments he made were about choosing where to invest your energy. Perhaps the idea of improvement through political debate and discourse is a ruse, and our energies are better spent elsewhere. He was also very clear about being non-confrontational, and that the ideal scenario is to not be noticed at all, or, if noticed, to be viewed by the state as 'not being worth the effort' to pursue. Juraj ended by describing how you could run a business using crypto and interpersonal connections, something I would have to see for myself to understand how that would work.
Juraj added some book recommendations by author James C. Scott (Seeing Like a State and Against the Grain) which I have not yet read. He also promoted his own books, of which Cryptocurrencies: Hack Your Way to a Better Life is now on my to-read list. You can order a copy on Juraj's website using Bitcoin or Monero.
Luke Smith's talk IS THE 'BEST CRYPTOCURRENCY' GOOD ENOUGH FOR GRANDMA YET? on Saturday morning was unfortunately hampered by technical failings, but I was able to catch the second half on Sunday by watching the recording. I liked Luke's honest assessment of just how difficult it is to bring new people into using something like Monero. I think it was Luke who argued that one of the best ways to increase adoption of Monero is to get the merchants to present it as an option for payment, rather than attempting to onboard individual users one by one. (Please correct me if I mixed up my speakers here; my notes are a bit jumbled!)
I liked Michael Fitzgerald/Stoic.xmr's (@TheStoicCoiner)argument that having financial control without third party involvement is the essence of freedom. With cash disappearing and CBDCs and crypto regulation on the horizon, I am inclined to agree. If all your transactions are recorded, you lose a core part of your freedom and agency. Michael is working on a book titled The Monero Standard which can be pre-ordered (see below).
Remote platform speaker Rachel O'Leary (@DarkFiSquad) presented a hopeful view on the future of digital privacy. She argues that increased, and increasingly harsher regulations will most likely galvanise those already using privacy tools and bring more people on board. One challenge I posed to that view is why that revolution hasn't started already. Rachel also recommended a book I've recently purchased, The Age of Surveillance Capitalism by Shoshana Zuboff (2019). It's a hefty tome, but I look forward to reading it soon.
A late addition to the Remote stage was a presenter by the name of Geonic. I felt he gave excellent explanation of what Monero is and does. His talk could be used as a very good introduction for newcomers. (I unfortunately don't have a link to his presentation.)
Finally, I found Remote Stage speaker Aeon's (@aeonBTC) THREAT MODELLING A STATE SPONSORED 51% ATTACK talk on the Remote Stage on Sunday really insightful. His slides and explanations were really clear, and I felt I had a much better understanding of a potential problem I'd heard about but not understood before. I thought he was a good teacher.
Oh, and I learned from the Haveno speaker about this neat little online Monero gift wallet:
Just add Monero, copy the link and send that to the recipient.
Well, I mentioned the tech failing. On day 1, Friday, that was an actual point of frustration for those of us watching from home. Saturday morning was a low point in this regard, where I more or less lost the first two hours waiting for things to start. But as I have already said, once the Saturday sessions picked up and the main technical difficulties were resolved, the excellent and plentiful content made me forget those early problems pretty quickly.
On the Remote Stage, some speakers presented pre-recorded talks. This was sometimes done to mask identity (I think the last speaker on Sunday even used an ominous sounding voice filter), and sometimes the videos were the plan B, where hardware or software had failed on the speaker's end. I find it hard to really engage with pre-recorded talks in this context, and generally switched those off.
I noticed some of the attendees in chat were annoyed with the later starts. This was largely due to the time it took to herd the live audience to their seats. The lack of punctual starts didn't bother me much; I could easily imagine there was a lot going on on location, with stalls outside and people networking, so that was fine for me.
Some speakers were better prepared than others, but, on the whole, the overall standard of seriousness was high.
All in all, MonerioTopia 2023 was a great experience for me. It was my first time attending such an event, and I learned a lot. You have to admire Douglas and Sunita's energy and unrelenting drive, the result of which was this real event where people learned and networked. I loved some of the banter in the chat, as well as some of the more serious or informative moments there. The technical support crew had a lot on its plate, and I am sure these experiences will contribute towards making MoneroTopia 2024 an even better experience.
MoneroTopia 2023 - the content behind this link may change as time passes
Friday - Sunday schedules
Cake Wallet - main sponsor of the event
Seth for Privacy's blog
Seth for Privacy's Opt Out podcast
Juraj Bednar's website
Juraj Bednar on Monero Talk
"Searching for Gamma" by Juraj Bednar.
Luke Smith's webpage
The Monero Standard (book) by Michael Fitzerald
DarkFi Rachel-Rose O'Leary's project
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I consider myself part of that group. Paying taxes doesn't bother me that much, and where there are communities, there will inevitably be hierarchy, power-struggle and politics. It seems really naive to me to believe otherwise.↩